"____ I have felt profound affection for three different cats, four dogs, that I remember, and only two horses; that is horses that I owned, ridden or driven." Death in the Afternoon
"Cats are the natural companions of intellectuals. They are silent watchers of dreams, inspiration and patient research," wrote French veterinarian Dr. Fernand Mery in his 1966 book The Life, History and Magic of the Cat. Nobel Prize–winning author Ernest Hemingway could very well be Dr. Mery’s prime example.
Ernest Hemingway inherited his love for animals from his parents—Grace Hall, a devoted cat fancier, and Clarence Edmonds (Ed) Hemingway, once an aspiring veterinarian before he focused on a single species, Homo sapiens, to serve as a medical practitioner and surgeon. However, it wasn’t unusual for Dr. Hemingway, despite his busy schedule, to offer his services to neighbors when their pets were in need of medical assistance.
Ernest’s sister, Marcelline Hemingway Sanford, recalled in her book, At the Hemingways, that she’d always heard that her father, even as a small boy, would put splints on a wounded creature’s leg or wing and feed orphaned animals, hoping to keep them healthy until they reached an independent life. So it wasn’t surprising that Dr. Hemingway once rushed to the rescue of one of Ernest’s favorite cats.
". . . an outside door . . . slammed during a windstorm and cut our poor cat’s tail right off. There was the cat squealing under a chair on the porch and inside was most of his tail," recalled Ernest’s sister, Madelaine Hemingway Miller, in her book Ernie Hemingway’s Sister "Sunny" Remembers. "Thankfully he healed well after Daddy’s expert emergency treatment. Whatever the cat had been christened escapes me, but from that time on he was known as Manx."
Dr. Hemingway passed on to Ernest not only his skills of animal doctoring, but his knowledge and love of nature. "Ernest was fond of all animals including wild ones," his mother Grace once said. "He is a natural scientist, loving everything in the ways of bugs, shells, birds, animals, insects, and blossoms." By the age of three, Ernest surprised his parents by correctly identifying seventy-three birds in his father’s Birds of Nature volume.
Ernest’s grandfather, Ernest (Abba) Hall, whom Ernest loved and was proud to have been named after, also had a fondness for animals. After Hall’s wife, Caroline Hancock, died of cancer, Hall found comfort with his beloved small white Yorkshire terrier, Tassel, whom Ernest adored. This was a family trait Ernest would inherit. He often sought comfort and love from his cats and dogs during some of the loneliest and most stressful times of his life.
Grandfather Hall’s kindness to animals was legendary and left a lasting impression on Ernest. According to Ernest’s sister, Marcelline, Hall once witnessed a junkman beating his old horse. After some lengthy negotiations, Hall purchased the horse and put it out to pasture, where it grazed and lived until its death. Ernest would also be known for rescuing mistreated and unwanted animals and adopting stray cats and dogs throughout his life. According to Dr. Marty Becker in his book The Healing Power of Pets: "Children’s interest in pets is the one strong element of childhood that survives as they mature. . . ."
Hemingway would write in his book Death in the Afternoon, published in 1932, how when seeing horses in distress he was compelled to assist the noble animals:
I cannot see a horse down in the street without having it make me feel a necessity for helping the horse, and I have spread sacking, unbuckled harness and dodged shod hoofs many times and will again if they have horses on city streets in wet and ice weather. . . .
Ernest, as did his father and grandfather before him, would pass on to his children his unselfish devotion to the family pets.
Hemingway had a natural understanding of animals. His low voice and quiet manner appealed to his animal friends, creating bonds that lasted throughout his life. Ernest would later write about these friendships in his books Death in the Afternoon,Islands in the Stream,A Moveable Feast,The Garden of Eden, and True at First Light.
"People remember their relationship with their first pet as taking place in a simple time in their lives, even though most of what you go through growing up is far from simple," wrote Dr. Marty Becker. "As kids, we try to find a pattern in all of the stimuli; decide what to trust and what to fear, and along the way experience our first joy, connection, rejection, loneliness and heartbreak. We face some of our largest and most memorable triumphs. Frequently, the companionship of pets is the constant that gets us through." Hemingway would rely on his pets throughout his life to help him through some of his most difficult times.